Researchers from the University of Oxford have radiocarbon dated a fragment of bone believed to be from the fourth-century Christian saint who inspired the legend of Santa Claus, and found that it is the correct age. Though this is not a definitive proof that the bone is his, it links the relic to the same era.

Professor Tom Higham and Dr Georges Kazan, the directors of the Oxford Relics Cluster at Keble College’s Advanced Studies Centre, tested the bones, the university said in a press release.

“The radiocarbon dating results pinpoint the relic’s age to the fourth century AD – the time that some historians allege that Saint Nicholas died, around 343 AD,” the university said. “The results suggest that the bones could in principle be authentic and belong to the saint.”

“Many relics that we study turn out to date to a period somewhat later than the historic attestation would suggest,” Higham said. “This bone fragment, in contrast, suggests that we could possibly be looking at remains from St Nicholas himself.”

However, asked about the possible authenticity of the relic, Higham said, “Science is not able to definitely prove that it is, it can only prove that it is not.”

The bone that was analysed is a fragment from the pelvis, and is owned by Father Dennis O’Neill from Illinois in the United States. It originally came from Lyon in France, the university said. Saint Nicholas’ bones have been held in the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy, since 1087. Other bones are preserved in the Chiesa di San Nicolo al Lido in Venice.

Higham and Kazan now want to test the relics in Bari and Venice to try and show that they are from the same individual using DNA testing. “It is exciting to think that these relics, which date from such an ancient time, could in fact be genuine,” Kazan said.